Thinking about teaching Greek and Latin roots? I started doing it in a summer school credit-recovery class in 2008. Since then, I’ve been teaching Greek and Latin roots in almost every subject I’ve taught, including ELA, computer science, drawing, and art. There’s a multitude of pedagogical reasons for teaching Greek and Latin roots (two in this sentence alone!) Here’s six of my favorites, plus some freebies to help you get started!
1. It has differentiated outcomes.
Not all students will learn the same thing, but they will all learn something beneficial.
When I’m teaching Greek and Latin roots, my goal is for my students to memorize the meaning of eighty-four of the most common roots found in the English Language. I want them to be able to quickly draw on their knowledge at any time, for example when taking a test, listening to a presentation, or reading text from a science book. Needless to say, not all students meet that goal 100 percent. But that’s okay! Even if they don’t successfully memorize all eighty-four roots, there are other levels of learning that they will attain. For example, simply knowing that words are made up of parts that have meaning – morphemes – helps them read, spell, and pronounce unfamiliar words. Awareness of morphemes, whether they know the specific meanings or not, improves students’ literacy. For example, if a student is aware of the morpheme soph, they are going to have an easier time correctly spelling sophomore, regardless of whether they remember that soph means wisdom. (I have to laugh when it comes to the word sophomore, because after teaching yearbook for three years, I learned that a high school student who spells it correctly every time is a rare thing indeed. They almost always write it sophmore.)
2. They already know how to do it.
When students study roots words, they are essentially studying a foreign language. Learning a language is something our students have already done! Every student already has a set of innate language-learning strategies that they used to acquire their home language. They will use those same strategies to learn Greek and Latin roots. Kids have a natural ability to learn languages and that ability kicks in when they study Greek and Latin roots.
3. It’s English-learner-friendly
Since I started teaching in 2005, my classes have always had a significant percentage of English learners. Being in California, most of my ELs were native Spanish speakers. Cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. Approximately 35% of English words have Spanish cognates. Think benefit and beneficiar. Ben- means good in English and Spanish! The same goes for roots like aqu, which means water and is found in English words like aquifer, aqueduct, and aquatic. My EL students are totally stoked when they realize that studying root words means studying word parts they already know.
Studying Greek and Latin roots also gives EL students the opportunity to learn and practice English phonemes. For example, if the root word of the lesson is meter, my students will be studying not just the root, but the words that contain the root. The lesson will give them a chance to read, spell, listen to, and say words such as kilometer, centimeter, metric, geometry, etc. The benefit of repeated, focused exposure to the sound of a language is supported by recent research into language learning finding that “the best way to learn a language is through frequent exposure to its sound patterns.”
4. Teaching Greek and Latin roots is visual!
Get out the scissors, glue and colored pencils! Many of the Greek and Latin roots that are common to the English language are concrete (as opposed to abstract). That means they can be taught with the aid of pictures. The visual aspect opens the door to using fun and engaging methodologies like visual flash cards, illustrated word walls, and interactive notebooks like the one pictured below.
5. It’s Common Core Aligned
I don’t live and die by Common Core alignment in my classroom. But it’s always nice to be able to point to the standards, especially when justifying curriculum to administrators or parents. Fortunately, knowledge of root words, prefixes, and suffixes is part of the CC standards from 3rd grde through high school. I’ve written about that alignment in depth in another blog post, found here.
6. It’s cross-curricular.
Math, for example, is loaded with Greek roots, especially numeric ones. Consider these mainstays of math vocabulary: subtraction, multiplication, and division. There’s four Greek and Latin roots in those three words. if you consider the suffixes, there’s a total of six word parts of Greek and Latin origin.
Speaking of math, I have a math freebie that deals specifically with numeric root words. Click the image below to get it!
7. It’s HUGE on Jeopardy!
Because you decided to teach roots and affixes, one of your students might be a future Ken Jennings or Larissa Kelly. “Word Origins” is in the top ten most common Jeopardy! categories, coming in at number four in all categories and number two in Final Jeopardy!
Want more reasons for teaching Greek and Latin roots?
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